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A Toxics-Free Future


Herlin Hsieh Chen receives the 2024 Taiwan Environmental Protection Lifetime Achievement Award

IPEN offers our warm congratulations to Herlin Hsieh Chen, Secretary-General of the Taiwan Watch Institute as he recently received the 2024 Taiwan Environmental Protection Lifetime Achievement Award.

Herlin Hsieh Chen shared the following award speech, which was translated into English:

“The award I received today represents the affirmation of the achievement of Taiwan Watch by NGOs Environment Conference, not just of me personally. Because if I have achieved anything, I didn’t do it alone. I owe it to all those supporting Taiwan Watch, the colleagues who work for Taiwan Watch, and the individuals, communities and groups who work with Taiwan Watch.

Taiwan Watch is a tiny organization. In order to exert its influence on society and make the goal of protecting both the environment and ecology, it is self-proclaimed as a catalyst for social revolution, hoping to bring the truth, the arguments, the knowledge we have discovered, and the values society should retain, through various channels, to raise public awareness of the environment protection and lower the barrier for revolution. Together with the cooperation of individuals who work for a better society in different positions, we guide the country in a positive direction.

Yet it’s a shame that even if Taiwan Watch has any achievements, no matter how large or small, it’s nonsense compared to the rate of environmental degradation. Therefore, today's award is not so much to affirm the achievements of Taiwan Watch, but rather to recognize the importance of the issues that Taiwan Watch is concerned about and advocated.  Through this award, the environmental community hopes to transmit its serious concern on the issues to society and decision-makers from all walks of life.

In short, our society has been consuming too much material and energy to satisfy our desires, large or small. Economic activities, especially industrial production and the pursuit of estate, have consumed lots of our lands, electricity, and water resources,  discharging too many pollutants into the air and water bodies, and generating a lot of waste, which has exceeded the limits of how the environment can provide us with a livable quality of life.

With all this happening, It takes only two or three generations, and the beauty of the environment we saw as children gradually disappears.

We are already living in a cement jungle, on waste piles, and there is probably bottom ash from incinerators under the road we drive every day. These wastes contain high levels of toxic dioxin, polychlorinated benzene, PFAS, brominated flame retardants and microplastics, and all kinds of heavy metals that have been added to plastic products;

From visible plastic waste to microplastics which must be recognized by a microscope,  plastic has been scattered across our parks, fields, beaches, rivers, and oceans. Plastic, although hardly decomposable, still sheds, breaks down, becomes smaller, nanometer-size, and can enter our bloodstream through the food chain.

Similarly, various toxic chemicals, considered magical in the past, are active around our lives, such as PFAS, which is claimed to be oil- and water-proof, have been widely used in greasy food paper bags, textiles, firefighting foams, cosmetics, and detergent. These toxic substances, unnecessary yet popular in the market, make their way through the production, consumption, and disposal of waste. These substances run into the environment, follow the paths of the food chain, water, and air, and eventually enter our bodies, making a problem for the birth of future children, and even a bigger problem if they make it into this world.

Our bodies have become the home of waste and toxic substances that affect our blood circulation, hinder physiological functions, and weaken intelligence, concentration, and creativity, those capabilities people are proud of, through many generations.

We don't want everyone to go back to ancient times, we just hope that society slows down; but the root problem is that economic entities won’t stop, for fear of being eliminated by competitors. But if we don't slow down, humanity will eventually perish.

We humbly request that governments should respect ecological limits, and environmental carrying capacity, and cap the total amount of water, electricity, land use and waste, empty space, and water pollution in industries, and reduce the pollution year by year to the extent that future generations can tolerate. Within the limit of total volume control, help the industry transformation; first counsel the factories that have made enough money, have finished depreciation, and live in the Red Sea to cut prices and compete with little profit to withdraw from the market; reduce the scale of the industry, and invest in industries that have low material and energy demand, such as clean production or eco-tourism.

We do have the opportunity to reduce the scale of the industry.

 In order to produce more than 20 million tons of steel per year, we import huge amounts of scrap steel, iron ore, and coal mines each year, consume a lot of energy, up to 12 percent of industrial electricity; then export a third of the steel, leaving six million tons of steel stoves to be landfilled, and account for about 15 percent of the country's total carbon emissions, with PM2.5 emission, half of the country's dioxin emission, about 20 percent of aluminum and mercury. Now, the global steel industry’s capacity is too large and oversupply.

 In order to produce up to 13 million tons of plastic per year and an incalculable amount of chemicals, we import extensive oil every year and use a lot of toxic substances in the production. The use of the top ten toxic chemicals alone is 13.34 million tons in 2022. The most toxic benzene that causes blood cancer, with an annual amount of 2.29 million tons. Vinyl chloride that causes liver cancer is used to make the No.3 toxic plastic PVC, its annual consumption is 1.68 million tons. These volatile organic substances spill out from the connection of the pipeline equipment, when they touch fire, burn, and explode to produce more toxic substances, posing a serious threat to the health and life of residents near the Petrochemical Industrial District. The use of the top eight toxic chemicals, when released into air, water, waste, and soil, accounts for almost 440 tons (2022 data), while the plastic and rubber manufacturers (excluding upstream raw material manufacturers) consume 3.1 billion KWh (2020 data). The petrochemical industry also consumes a lot of water, drying the Jhuoshuei River out.

As a result, the petrochemical industry consumes a lot of water, and electricity, and releases a variety of toxic substances every year, producing 13 million tons of plastic a year. But nearly 80% of the plastic is exported to earn foreign exchange, and profits are getting thinner due to the overproduction of plastic globally.

Not that we don’t have any chance to turn the tide.

The immediate crisis is huge. Not only extreme climate, but the contamination of four PFASs in water bodies alone has broken the planet’s boundary of chemical pollution. Countless microplastics and other toxic chemicals pose a threat to humanity even greater than climate change. Even if we can convert all electricity usage to green energy, it won't help against these toxic threats!

When facing a crisis of this magnitude, any species would run immediately, let alone human beings who claim to be the intelligence of all! We must drop the obsession with pursuing wealth, and we have to show the determination to face the unprecedented crisis that is created by us, 2 or 3 generations! Earth cannot grow, economy can’t grow off the limit. This is the basic concept of sustainable development. Resources are limited, it’s not right to deplete an entire lake for only casual fishing. Let human activities reasonably use resources through legal norms, is the responsibility of politicians and a manifestation of the collective wisdom of society.”


This is Herlin Hsieh Chen original speech: